Head, Richard (DNB00)

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HEAD, RICHARD (1637?–1686?), author, was born in Ireland about 1637. The opening chapters of his ‘English Rogue’ are proved by comparison with his friend Winstanley's account of his early life to be based on his own career. We thus learn that his father, a graduate of Oxford (perhaps John Head, B.A. New Inn Hall, 1628), after making a runaway match, became a nobleman's chaplain; travelled with his patron to Ireland; settled at Knockfergus (i.e. Carrickfergus), and was murdered by the Irish rebels in 1641. Head, then aged four, escaped with his mother, after fearful sufferings, to Belfast; was carried to Plymouth; attended the grammar school of Bridport, Dorsetshire; and was admitted at Oxford to the same college as that whence his father graduated. But he soon left the university to become apprentice to a Latin bookseller in London. He wrote a poem called ‘Venus' Cabinet Unlock'd’ (not known to be extant, although Lowndes describes it as ‘Lond. n.d. 12mo’), married, and opened a bookshop on his own account in Little Britain, but took to gambling, and in straitened circumstances retired to Dublin. There he wrote a comedy, ‘Hic et Ubique, or the Humours of Dublin,’ which was ‘acted privately with great applause.’ On Head's return to London in 1663, he printed it (4to), with a dedication to Charles, duke of Monmouth. Taking a house in Queen's Head Alley, near Paternoster Row, he again attempted business as a bookseller, but was once more ruined by losses at play, and from 1664 onwards made what livelihood he could by ‘scribbling’ for the booksellers ‘at 20s. per sheet.’ His indelicacy pleased the public, but he led a wild and dissipated life, and suffered ‘many crosses and afflictions.’ He was drowned, according to Winstanley, about 1686, while crossing to the Isle of Wight. Aubrey dates his death with less probability ten years earlier, and says he was drowned ‘going to Plymouth by long sea.’ Aubrey adds that he ‘had been among the gipsies,’ ‘looked like a knave with his goggling eyes,’ and ‘could transform himself into any shape.’

Head is chiefly known as the author of a pretended autobiography of a professional thief, entitled ‘The English Rogue, described in the life of Meriton Latroon, a witty extravagant, being a compleat history of the most Eminent Cheats of both Sexes.’ The book is full of indecent episodes, but many of the hero's adventures are racily told. It appears that when the manuscript was first presented to the censors of the press, license was refused on the ground of its indecency, and that it was first distributed secretly and sold largely as a forbidden book (cf. Kirkman, Pref. to Rogue, pt. ii.) Winstanley states that afterwards the author ‘was fain to refine it, and then it passed stamp.’ If, as seems probable, the extant editions, with their coarse language and episode, present the expurgated version, Head's original draft must have been singularly disreputable. The original work was published by Henry Marsh in an octavo volume in 1665, with a portrait of the author, and in the following year was reissued by Francis Kirkman the bookseller [q. v.] Wood's story that Head was for a time in partnership with Kirkman is disproved by the latter's statement that he was only acquainted with him as the author of the ‘Rogue’ (ib.) In spite of its popularity, Kirkman applied in vain to Head to write a second part. His rogue's adventures, he complained, were regarded as episodes in his own life. Another writer, said to be Gerard Langbaine, promised to take up the work, but he, too, ultimately declined to risk his reputation. Kirkman himself thereupon wrote a second part, which was licensed for the press on 22 Feb. 1668, but no earlier edition than that of 1671 has been met with. In 1671, also, third and fourth parts were issued, with a promise of a fifth part. The four parts were republished uniformly in 1680. An abridgment of the first part, prepared by Head, appeared in 1679 (12mo), and was reissued in 1688. A ‘fifth part’ is appended to an abridgment of the whole, issued at Gosport in 1689. This part only consists of a few pages, and is not known in an extended form. The early editions are all scarce. A reprint of the original four parts was issued in 1874 in 4 vols. 8vo. Kirkman asserted that for the third and fourth parts Head and himself were equally responsible, and the preface to the fourth part is signed by both of them. But Head expressly denies in his ‘Proteus Redivivus, or the Art of Wheedling or Insinuation’ (London, 1675, 8vo; with additions, 1684, 12mo), that he was concerned in any part but the first. He says that he intended to complete the ‘Rogue,’ but ‘seeing the continuator hath already added three parts to the former, and never, as far as I can see, will make an end of pestering the world with more volumes and large editions, I diverted my attention to the subject of the art of wheedling.’ Head describes himself on the title-page of his ‘Proteus,’ as well as on that of a similar compilation, ‘The Miss Display'd, with all her Wheedling Arts and Circumventions’ (Lond. 1675, 8vo, Bodl., see No. 8 below), merely as ‘author of the First Part of the English Rogue.’ He returned to the subject of thieves' practices in his ‘Canting Academy, or the Devil's Cabinet opened. Wherein is shewn the mysterious and villanous Practices of that wicked crew commonly known by the name of Hectors, Trapanners, Gilts, etc., to which is added a compleat Canting Dictionary … with several new Catches, Songs, etc.’ (Lond. 1673, 12mo; and reissued as ‘The Canting Academy, or Villanies Discovered’ (1674, 12mo). The ‘Canting Dictionary’ is borrowed from earlier works [see Harman, Thomas], and much of it had already appeared in ‘The English Rogue,’ pt. i. chap. v.

Head's other works are: 1. ‘The Red Sea, a Description of the Sea-fight between the English and Dutch, with an Elegy on Sir C. Minnes,’ London, 1666, fol. (Bliss, Cat.) 2. ‘Al-man-sir, or Rhodomontados of the most Horrible, Terrible, and Invincible Captain, Sir Frederic Fightall,’ London, 1672, 8vo, with frontispiece ({{sc|Lowndes}). 3. ‘The Floating Island, or a New Discovery, relating the strange Adventure on a late Voyage from Lambethana to Villa Franca, alias Ramallia to the eastward of Terra del Templo … by Francis Careless, one of the Discoverers,’ London, 1673, 4to (Bodl.). 4. ‘News from the Stars by Meriton Latroon,’ 1673, 12mo (Lowndes). 5. ‘Western Wonder, or O, Brazile, an Inchanted Island discovered, with a Description of a place called Montecapernia,’ London, 1674, 4to. Lowndes mentions an edition of 1675 entitled, ‘O Brazil, or the Inchanted Island.’ 6. ‘Jackson's Recantation, or the Life and Death of the notorious Highwayman now hanging in chains at Hampstead,’ London, 1674 (Bodleian). 7. ‘Life and Death of Mother Shipton,’ London, 1677, 4to (Brit. Mus.), 1684, 1687, and often reprinted. 8. ‘Madam Wheedle, or the Fashionable Miss Discovered,’ London, 1678, 8vo (Lowndes), possibly a later edition of ‘The Miss Display'd’ mentioned above. 9. ‘Nugæ Venales, or a Complaisant Companion, being new Jests, domestick and foreign, Bulls, Rhodomontados, pleasant Novels, and Miscellanies,’ the third edition corrected, London, 1686, 12mo (Brit. Mus.). No earlier edition seems known. It is an amusing but coarse collection of stories, for the most part old. Winstanley and Wood also ascribe to Head a pamphlet (not otherwise known) said to be entitled ‘Moonshine,’ London, 1672, written in reply to Robert Wild's ‘Letter to Mr. J. J. upon His Majesty's Declaration for Liberty of Conscience’ (1672).

[Winstanley's Lives of the most famous English Poets, 1689, pp. 207–10; Wood's Athenæ Oxon. iii. 1196 (inaccurate); Aubrey's Lives in Letters from Eminent Persons, 1813, ii. 439; Hazlitt's Handbook and Bibliographical Collections; Halkett and Laing's Dict. of Pseudonymous and Anonymous Lit.; Brit. Mus. Cat., which enumerates very few of Head's books.]

S. L. L.